In Afghanistan, growing concern over Haqqani network

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A top secret cable from the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan stressed the growing threat posed by the largely Pakistani Haqqani network, The Washington Post reports.

The cable, sent over a CIA transmission network — officials cited security concerns due to the sensitivity of its contents — said Haqqani operatives working out of Pakistan threaten the stability of eastern Afghanistan. Due to the country’s rocky political relationship with the U.S., American attacks on known Haqqani hotbeds are too few to have a dramatic effect.

The group’s patriarch, Jalaluddin Haqqani, was a major mujaheddin fighter in the CIA-backed effort to expel the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. He has relinquished control to his son, Sirajuddin, who carries a $5 million U.S. bounty on his head and runs day-to-day operations from the network’s Pakistani base in Miran Shah.

The location has given the Haqqani leadership a measure of protection. The CIA has repeatedly refrained from launching missiles at known Haqqani targets, including a prominent religious school the network uses as a base of operations, out of concern for civilian casualties and the backlash that could ensue.

The cable also drew attention for its delivery method. Usually, State Department officials send communications through State Department channels — the same channels over which the cables from WikiLeaks’ Cablegate release were sent. This cable was sent over the CIA’s more secure network. Officials familiar with the cable, however, shared information about its contents, possibly to generate support for more aggressive military action within Pakistan.

The cable, which was described by several officials familiar with its contents, could be used as ammunition by senior military officials who favor more aggressive action by the United States against the Haqqani havens in Pakistan. It also could buttress calls from senior military officials for a more gradual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as the 2014 deadline for ending combat operations approaches.

Combat operations in Pakistan have suffered recently after an American helicopter strike in November took the lives of more than 20 Pakistani soldiers, sparking outrage within the Pakistani government and further souring relations between the countries.

Proponents of a more aggressive approach against the Haqqani network refer to a large-scale attack on the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan in September, which officials pinned on the Haqqani network.

Photo: U.S. Forces Afghanistan Protective Service Detail Sgt. Jaclyn Guzman at the ready during the Sept. 13, 2011 attack on the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Creative Commons/Flickr user DVIDSHUB.

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